Journal of Signal and Information Processing, 2011, 2, 125-139
doi:10.4236/jsip.2011.22017 Published Online May 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion
Victor Popa1, Jani Nurminen2, Moncef Gabbouj1
1Department of Signal Processing, Tampere University of Technology, Tampere, Finland; 2Nokia Devices R&D, Tampere, Finland.
Received February 7th, 2011; revised March 30th; accepted April 7th, 2011.
This paper presents a voice conversion technique based on bilinear models and introduces the concept of contextual
modeling. The bilinear approach reformulates the spectral envelope representation from line spectral frequencies fea-
ture to a two-factor parameterization corresponding to speaker identity and phonetic information, the so-called style
and content factors. This decomposition offers a flexible representation suitable for voice conversion and facilitates the
use of efficient training algorithms based on singular value decomposition. In a contextual approach (bilinear) models
are trained on subsets of the training data selected on the fly at conversion time depending on the characteristics of the
feature vector to be converted. The performance of bilinear models and context modeling is evaluated in objective and
perceptual tests by comparison with the popular GMM-based voice conversion method for several sizes and different
types of training data.
Keywords: Line Spectral Frequencies (LSF), Gaussian Mixture Model (GMM), Bilinear Models (BL), Singular Value
Decomposition (SVD), Temporal Decomposition (TD), Factor Analysis
1. Introduction
Voice conversion is a transformation process applied to a
speech signal to change the speaker identity to resemble
a predetermined target speaker identity while leaving the
speech content unaltered. The motivation for creating
such a technology is related to its real life applications,
among them the possibility to create personalized voices
for text-to-speech systems (TTS) or to use it to recover
the original voice identity in movie dubbing and speech-
to-speech translations. There is also a big potential for
other entertainment and security related applications.
The topic has received a great research interest and
various methods, such as Gaussian mixture modeling
(GMM) [1], frequency warping [2], artificial neural net-
works [3], hidden Markov models (HMM) [4], linear
transformation [5], codebook based conversion [6], ei-
genvoices [7], maximum likelihood estimation of spectral
parameter trajectory [8], partial least squares regression
[9], have been proposed in the literature. Voice conver-
sion remains an open issue as all the current methods
have some weaknesses. For example, the GMM based
methods, while being very popular for spectral conver-
sion and considered to produce a good identity mapping,
suffer from a known over-smoothing problem and result
in relatively poor speech quality. Over-smoothing is a
major issue in voice conversion and also affects the me-
thod proposed in this paper to some extent. On the other
hand, the frequency warping produces good speech qual-
ity at the cost of a compromised identity conversion.
The bilinear models represent a factor analysis technique
introduced originally in [10] which attempts to model
observations as a result of two underlying factors. This
concept originated from the observation that living or-
ganisms are capable of separating “style” and “content”
in their perception. The separation into these two factors
gives a flexible representation and facilitates the gener-
alization to unseen styles or content classes. Furthermore,
this framework provides efficient training algorithms
based on singular value decomposition (SVD). In [11]
we have demonstrated with early results that bilinear
models are a viable solution also for voice conversion, by
studying the voice conversion in terms of style (speaker
identity) and content (the phonetic information) with
small parallel sets of training data.
In parallel training data, the speakers utter the same
sentences. In contrast, if each speaker utters a different
set of sentences, the data is referred to as text independ-
ent data. The term non-parallel will be used in this paper
to denote a text independent data in which all speakers
This work was supported by the Academy of Finland, (application
number 129657, Finnish Programme for Centres of Excellence in Re-
search 2006-2011).
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion
use the same phonetic alphabet and usually the same
language. The extreme case of text independent data
where the speakers speak in different languages that typ-
ically have different phoneme sets is commonly referred
to as the cross-lingual case. The greatest challenge in
dealing with text independent data is to find an alignment
between the source and target features. By proper align-
ment, the text independent case can be reduced to the
parallel scenario and similar conversion methods can be
In this paper, we propose a spectral transformation
technique for voice conversion based on bilinear models
and we also propose an alignment scheme for text inde-
pendent data based on [12]. Due to their capability for
reconstructing missing data, we hypothesize that bilinear
models may be particularly useful in text independent
cases and especially in cross-lingual voice conversion.
The proposed conversion technique based on bilinear
models is compared with the widely used GMM based
method using both parallel and text independent data
with very small to very large sizes of the training sets.
Our results offer a comprehensive perspective over the
performance and the limitations that bilinear models have
in voice conversion. In addition, we also try to answer
the question whether fitting conversion models to con-
textual data (a subset of the training data) is more appro-
priate for capturing details than the usual models opti-
mized globally over the entire training data.
The paper is organized as follows. In the next section,
we introduce the method based on asymmetric bilinear
models and explain how it can be applied in voice con-
version with parallel training data. In Section 3, we pre-
sent the challenges of the non-parallel and cross-lin- gual
voice conversion and give a practical solution to the
alignment problem. We also introduce in a separate sub-
section the concept of contextual conversion that can be
utilized with both non-parallel and cross-lingual data. In
Section 4, we describe the practical experiments and
discuss the objective measurements and listening test
results. Finally, concluding remarks and potential direc-
tions for future research are presented in Section 5.
2. Voice Conversion with Asymmetric
Bilinear Models
The general style and content framework originally pre-
sented in [10] can be successfully utilized for spectral
transformation in voice conversion. This section de-
scribes the asymmetric bilinear models following the
notations used in [10], and discusses the properties of the
technique from the voice conversion perspective. In the
following, we will use the terms style and content to refer
to the speaker identity and phonetic information, respec-
tively, which constitute the two independent factors un-
derlying our observations. In this paper, the observations
are represented as line spectral frequency (LSF) vectors.
2.1. Asymmetric Bilinear Models
In a symmetric model, the style s (the speaker identity)
and content c (the phonetic information) are represented
as parameter vectors denoted as and bc of dimension I
and J, respectively. Let ysc denote an observation vector
in style s and content class c, and let K denote its dimen-
sion. In our case, ysc is an LSF vector of one speaker and
it represents the spectral envelope of a particular speech
frame. ysc as a bilinear function of as and bc, in its most
general form, is given by [10]
kijk ij
 sc
b (1)
where i, j and k denote elements of the style, content and
observation vectors. The terms wijk describe the interac-
tion between the content (phonetic information) and style
(speaker identity) factors and are independent of both of
these factors.
Asymmetric bilinear models are derived from the
symmetric bilinear models by allowing the interaction
terms wijk to vary with the style leading to a more flexible
style description [10]. Equation (1) becomes
kijk ij
Combining the style(identity)-specific terms in (2) into
kijk i
By denoting as As the K × J matrix with entries
a, (4)
can be rewritten as
Ab. (5)
In this formulation the
a terms can be interpreted
as a style (identity) specific linear map from the content
(phonetic info) space to the observation space (LSF). It is
worth to note that unlike the face image case presented in
[10] in which basis vectors appeared to have some con-
crete interpretations, no obvious patterns could be ob-
served and no meaningful interpretation could be attrib-
uted to the parameter vectors and matrices in our par-
ticular application.
2.2. Model Fitting Procedure
The objective of the model fitting procedure is to train
the parameters of the asymmetric model to minimize the
total squared error over the entire training dataset. This is
equivalent to maximum likelihood (ML) [13] estimation
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion127
of the style and content parameters based on the training
data, with the assumption that the data was produced by
the models plus independently and identically distributed
(i.i.d.) Gaussian noise [10].
The model fitting is described for S speakers (styles)
and C content classes which could correspond to pho-
netically justified units. Our training material consists of
R1 LSF vectors of speech uttered by speaker s1
in style
s = 1, R2 LSF vectors of speech uttered by speaker s2 in
style s = 2, and so on. The individual (speaker based)
parametric sequences are pooled together in a training
sequence of size 12 . Let y(r) denote
the r-th training observation () from the
pooled data. Each y(r) is an LSF vector coming from a
certain speaker (style) and from one of C content classes.
The binary indicator variable hsc(r) takes the value 1 if
y(r) is in style s and content class c and the value 0, oth-
erwise. The total squared error E of the asymmetric
model given in (5) is computed over the training set us-
RR RR
 
RSC scs c
 b
In the case of parallel training data, the speech se-
quences of the S speakers can be time aligned and each
S-tuple of aligned LSF vectors will be assumed to repre-
sent a distinct class. Consequently, there will be only one
LSF vector from each speaker (style) falling into each
content class.
If the training set contains an equal number of obser-
vations in each style and in each content class (in our
case one observation), a closed form procedure exists for
fitting the asymmetric model using singular value de-
composition (SVD) [10].
In the proposed case of parallel and aligned training
data, in order to work with standard matrix algorithms,
we stack the SC (= R) LSFs (K dimensional column)
vectors into a single SK x C matrix, similarly as in [10],
11 1
. (7)
We can express now the asymmetric model in the fol-
lowing very compact matrix form
YAB, (8)
where the (SK) × J matrix A and the J × C matrix B rep-
resent the stacked style and content parameters,
, (9)
Bb b
. (10)
To find the optimal style and content parameters for
(8) in the least square sense, we can compute the SVD of
Y = UZVT [10] with complexity O(min((SK)2C, (SK)C2)).
(Z is considered to have the diagonal eigenvalues in de-
creasing order.) By definition, we choose the style pa-
rameter matrix A to be the first J columns of UZ and the
content parameter matrix B to be the first J rows of VT.
There are many ways to choose the model dimensionality
J e.g. from prior knowledge, by requiring a desired level
of approximation of data, or by identifying an “elbow” in
the singular value spectrum [10].
Note that using a relatively small model order
prevents overfitting and that potential numer-
ical problems due to very large matrices can be avoided
by computing an economy size decomposition (in Mat-
An important aspect in cases with very high dimen-
sional features is the selection of the model dimensional-
ity (J) since high model dimensionalities could cause
overfitting problems. Our experiments with K = 16 and
K = 10 dimensional LSFs produced similar results with
the difference that error decreases and stabilizes quicker
for K = 10 as fewer parameters require less data for a
reliable training.
2.3. Application in Parallel Voice Conversion
One of the tasks that fall under the framework proposed
in [10] and which is of particular interest in voice con-
version is extrapolation illustrated in Table 1. In this cha-
racter example the letters D and E (content classes) do
not exist and need to be generated in the new font (style)
based on the labeled training set (first two rows) [10].
The term extrapolation refers to the ability to produce
equivalent content in a new style, in our case to produce
speech as that uttered by a source speaker but with a tar-
get speaker’s voice. Therefore, voice conversion is a di-
rect analogy of the extrapolation task. Extending a bit the
concept of voice conversion we can also define it as the
generation of speech with a target voice, reproducing
content uttered by multiple source speakers.
We can formulate the problem of parallel voice con-
version as an extrapolation task as follows. Given a
training set of parallel speech data from S source speakers
Table 1. The extrapolation task illustrated for characters.
A B C ? ?
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion
and the target speaker, the task is to generate any test
sentence in the target voice starting from S utterances of
the test sentence corresponding to each of the S source
voices (styles).
The alignment of the training data (S source + one tar-
get speakers) is a prerequisite step for model estimation
and is usually done with DTW. On the other hand, the
alignment of the test data (S utterances of the source
speakers) is also required if S > 1. The test data is aligned
to a target utterance of the test sentence which exists in
this study for evaluative purposes. In real applications,
where such a target utterance does not exist, the test data
should be aligned to one of its S source utterances, pref-
erably a source speaker (denoted as main source speaker)
whose speaking style resembles that of the target speaker.
Choosing the alignment in this way has at least two ad-
vantages: provides a natural speaking style for the con-
verted utterance which is close to the target one and re-
duces alignment problems because at least the main
source speaker’s utterance does not have to be interpo-
lated in the alignment process.
A so-called complete data is formed by concatenating
the aligned training and test data of the S source speakers.
The complete data is assumed to have as many classes as
LSF vectors per speaker and is used to fit the asymmetric
bilinear model of (8) to the S source styles following the
closed-form SVD procedure described in Section 2.2.
This yields a K × J matrix As for each source style (voice)
s and a J dimensional vector bc for each LSF class c in
the complete data (hence producing also the bc-s of the
test utterance).
The model adaptation to the incomplete new style t (the
target voice) can be done in closed form using the content
vectors bc learned during training. Suppose the aligned
training data from our target speaker (style t) consists of
M LSF vectors which by convention we considered to be
in M different content classes CT = {c1, c2, , cM}. We
can derive the style matrix At that minimizes the total
squared error over the target training data,
tct c
. (11)
The minimum of E* is found by solving the linear sys-
. (12)
The missing observations (LSFs) in the style t and a
content class c of the test sentence can be then synthe-
sized from ytc = Atbc. This means we can estimate the
target version of the test sentence by multiplying the tar-
get style matrix At with the content vectors corresponding
to the test sentence.
2.4. The Proposed Algorithm
The proposed technique is summarized in the following
algorithm in which we assume that LSF features are
1) Time align the training data (source speakers and
target speaker) and the test sentence (source speakers
only) which is to be converted to the target voice. The
alignment will respect the timeline or prosody of the
main source speaker.
2) Form the complete data of the source speakers by
combining their training data with their test sentence
3) Run SVD to fit the asymmetric bilinear model to
the complete data. This step will find the style matrices
As for all the source speakers and the content vectors bc
for all the content (LSF) classes, including the classes
(LSFs) in the test sentence.
4) Find the style matrix At of the target voice by mini-
mizing (11), thus solving (12).
5) Synthesize the converted LSF vectors as ytc = Atbc
with At found at step 4 and the content vectors bc of the
test sentence found at step 3.
3. Non-Parallel and Cross-Lingual Voice
In contrast to the parallel scenario, in text independent
corpora the speakers need not utter the same sentences. If
the speakers use the same phonetic set in their utterances,
we refer to it as the non-parallel case. In a cross-lingual
case even the phoneme sets used by speakers are differ-
ent. In our experiments, we have designed a so called
simulated cross-lingual corpus from originally parallel
intra-lingual data by ensuring that the target speaker util-
izes in his utterances only a subset of the phonemes used
by the source speakers.
By observing that the correspondence of speech con-
tent between speakers has moved from the utterance lev-
el to the phoneme level we propose an alignment scheme
based on temporal decomposition and phonetic segmen-
tation of the speech signal starting from [12]. The role of
the alignment scheme in this work is to facilitate the use
of parallel voice conversion algorithms with text inde-
pendent data allowing us to focus on the evaluation of
GMM and bilinear models, therefore here we limit our-
selves at presenting the scheme and leave further analysis
for future study.
The first part of this section introduces a theoretical
framework for speech modeling based on articulatory
phonetics that justifies our alignment scheme for text
independent data presented in the second part of the sec-
tion. Finally, the last part of the section introduces the
idea of context modeling.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion129
3.1. Temporal Decomposition
In the temporal decomposition (TD) model [14], speech
is represented as a sequence of articulatory gestures that
produce acoustic events. An acoustic event is associated
with a so called event target and with an event function.
The event target can be regarded as a spectral parameter
vector and the event function denotes the activation level
of that acoustic event as a function of time. The mathe-
matical formulation of this model was given in [14] as:
 
nzn n
, (13)
where zl denotes the l-th event target,
l(n) describes the
temporal evolution of this target, is an approxi-
mation of the n-th spectral parameter vector y(n), N is the
number of frames in the speech segment and L represents
the number of event functions, ().
In the original formulation of the TD model [14] sev-
eral event functions may overlap at any given location in
the speech signal. A simplification of the original model
was proposed in [15,16] in which only adjacent event
functions are allowed to overlap leading to a second or-
der TD model:
 
11 1
lll lll
nznzn nnn
 
  (14)
where nl and nl + 1 represent locations of events l and (l + 1).
A restriction on this model suggested in [17] requires
the event functions to sum up to one. Furthermore, in
order to better explain the temporal structure of speech, a
modified restricted temporal decomposition (MRTD)
was proposed in [18] and assumes that all event functions
first grow from 0 to 1 and then decrease from 1 to 0. An
illustration of the event functions with all the above re-
strictions is given in Figure 1.
The above assumptions are practically equivalent to
saying that any spectral vector located between two event
targets can be computed from the event targets by inter-
The MRTD algorithm [18] can be used to determine
the event locations and the event targets. Interestingly,
[19] suggests that these event targets convey speaker
identity. However, MRTD cannot guarantee a fixed cor-
respondence between the (number of) acoustic events
and the phonetic units. Such a property is desirable for
alignment purposes [12] but requires another method to
find the event locations.
A method based on phonemes was proposed in [20,21]
to represent phonemes with a fixed number of event tar-
gets. The method uses labeled utterances to segment the
speech signal into phonemes. Each phoneme is divided
into Q-1 equal segments by Q equally spaced points
which are used as event locations. Q is a free parameter
depending on the application. In [12] Q = 5 was used.
In our work we distinguish between the middle sta-
tionary part of phonemes and phonetic transitions and
segment the speech into stationary phonetic units and
transient phonetic units as described in the next section.
Each phonetic unit is divided by four equally spaced
points (Qpu = 4), corresponding to seven event targets per
phoneme (Q = 7), and event targets are computed at
those locations from an LSF representation of the pho-
netic unit as follows [18].
First the event functions are computed as:
 
1, if
min1, max0,,
0, otherwise
ll l
 
where l = 1:Qpu and
in which y(n) represents the n-th vector of the LSF se-
quence and the initial event targets zl and zl + 1 are vectors
sampled from the LSF trajectories at the defined target
locations nl and nl + 1, zl = y(nl), zl + 1 = y(nl + 1).
The actual event target vectors are then calculated in
least mean square sense using:
  (17)
and since these event target vectors may violate the fre-
quency ordering property of LSFs a further refinement
scheme is applied as in [18].
The event targets are used for alignment and used in
conversion while the reconstruction of the phonetic unit
to its original or to a desired number of feature vectors is
done based on the event functions.
l + 1
l + 1
Figure 1. Two adjacent event functions in the second order
TD model.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion
3.2. The Proposed Alignment Scheme
The next scheme requires phonetically labeled training
 denote a phonetic set consisting
of phonemes common to all source and target speakers
and rare phonemes spoken only by the source speakers.
If f
 is the j-th phoneme (also denoted as pj) of
an utterance occupying the time interval [
j – 1
j] in the
speech signal we define a stationary phonetic unit pjpj(=
f) as occupying time intervals [
1, j
2, j] where:
1, 11
jj jj
 
 
2, 11
jj jj
 
 
The transient phonetic unit pj – 1pj (=
f) occupies in-
tervals like [
2,(j – 1)
1, j] instead.
Following the procedure in Section 3.1, the (LSFs of)
phonetic units are decomposed into Qpu = 4 equally
spaced event targets which can be concatenated into a
phonetic unit based feature vector
12 pu
Zzz z
, (20)
where zq (1 q Qpu) denotes the q-th event target in a
speech segment (phonetic unit). If we consider the fre-
quency ordering property of the “LSF-like” event targets,
this representation can be further normalized to
 
which is an ordered vector of frequencies within (0
All the phonetic unit based feature vectors are then
grouped by phonetic unit and speaker. We represent our
training data in the form of a PxP matrix D, structured in
multiple layers (one for each speaker) having at node
(g, f):
the stationary phonetic unit
f corresponding to
f, if g = f
the transient phonetic unit
f between phonemes
g and
f, if g
Aligned data is build for each phonetic unit by group-
ing phonetic unit based vectors from each layer of the
unit’s node (g, f) into triples (Zs1, Zs2, Zt) minimizing the
distance SD3(Zs1, Zs2, Z
t) = sd(Zs1, Zs2) + sd(Zs1, Zt) +
sd(Zs2, Zt) over all combinations of the remaining vectors
at node (g, f) until one layer runs out of phonetic unit
based vectors. Here sd represents a spectral distortion
measure. Consequently, we end up with an equal number
of phonetic unit based vectors in each layer. A node (g, f)
in which at least one of
g or
f is a rare phoneme cannot
contain data from the target speaker, therefore we align
phonetic unit based vectors as pairs (Zs1, Z
s2) only be-
tween source speakers’ layers. This is done in a similar
way minimizing the distance sd(Zs1, Zs2) over all the re-
maining combinations until one layer runs out of data.
3.3. Contextual Modeling
The traditional GMM based voice conversion methods fit
a GMM to the aligned training data globally without any
explicit consideration of the various phoneme classes. It
is natural to question whether GMM is able to capture
the fine details of each phonetic class when the training
optimizes a global fitting. It is also natural to wonder
whether these details are influenced or not by the local
context. It is not practical though to train a different
model for each different context or even for each differ-
ent phoneme due to the large amount of data necessary
for such training. The research conducted so far has not
been able to give clear answers to these questions.
To shed some light on the above issues more closely,
we have studied the use of contextual modeling in voice
conversion. By contextual modeling we refer to a scheme
in which multiple models are optimized on possibly
overlapping subsets of the training data denoted as con-
texts. We hypothesize that such a modeling could poten-
tially offer more accuracy and partially alleviate the
known over-smoothing problem of the traditional GMM
based techniques.
Each feature vector yi in the parameterized speech se-
quence [y1, y2, , yN] can be regarded as belonging to a
context and is associated with a context descriptor
i. For
i can be regarded as the phonetic unit to
which yi belongs but in a broader sense the context de-
scriptor can be any meaningful parameter (e.g. dy/dt, the
time derivative of y).
For the conversion of a feature vector yi we first select
the appropriate conversion model based on its context
i. A potentially different model is selected for
the conversion of a different feature vector yj.
Since it is not practical to train and store models for
thousands of contexts beforehand, we can perform model
training on context data selected on the fly for each fea-
ture vector yi based on
Context data may be considerably small depending on
the selection rule (it is not practical to gather sufficient
data to train e.g. a reliable phoneme model) therefore the
trained models need to be robust with small data, fast and
computationally efficient because they are trained re-
peatedly on different contexts. Our results presented in
[11] recommend bilinear models for this task.
3.4. Practical Implementation
The proposed algorithm requires aligned event target
representations of the test utterance from all the source
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
speakers. Furthermore we use phonetic annotations in
order to segment the aligned representations into pho-
netic units as defined in Section 3.2. Blocks of SxQpu
event targets representing one phonetic unit are con-
verted one at a time generating Qpu converted event tar-
gets as suggested in Figure 2 below, with S being the
number of source speakers and Qpu = 4 the number of
equally spaced event targets used to represent one pho-
netic unit.
f be the (j – 1)-th and j-th phonemes of
the test utterance, alternatively denoted as pj – 1 and pj
respectively. We note that each phonetic unit (e.g. pj – 1pj =
f) corresponds to a node of the matrix D (e.g. (g, f))
representing the full training data as introduced in Sec-
tion 3.2.
For each phonetic unit of the test utterance a context
data contextcommon is extracted from the full training set
using the multilayer matrix structure D. To illustrate the
selection we describe next how this is done for the pho-
netic unit pj – 1pj =
1) Start with an empty context data. context = .
2) Add the data corresponding to the current phonetic
unit (pj – 1pj =
f). context = context D(g, f).
3) If size(contextcommon) < Thr then context = context
D(k, f), 1 k P, k
f and context = context D(g, k),
1 k P, k
g. By common data we refer to any D(l, m)
for which both
l and
m represent phonemes common to
both source and target speakers, contextcommon represents
the common part of the data included in the current con-
text, and Thr denotes a size threshold.
4) For pj – 1pj – 1, pjpj, pj – 2pj – 1, pjpj + 1, pj – 2pj – 2, pj + 1
pj + 1 until size(contextcommon) Thr do step 2 and step
3 (if such a unit is within the utterance bounds), but in
the context building skip the nodes of D that have al-
ready been collected.
By construction contextcommon is an aligned dataset of
event targets of all the S source speakers and the target
speaker. The block of source event targets corresponding
to the phonetic unit for which contextcommon was built can
be converted using this context data and the bilinear
models framework for parallel data from Section 2.
After the conversion of the event targets the desired
number of feature vectors can be reconstructed using
event functions.
4. Experiments and Results
This work extends the study of voice conversion with bi-
linear models from the case of parallel and limited train-
ing sets [11] to non-parallel and simulated cross-lingual
cases evaluating how the size of the training data and the
contextual modeling influence the performance. Unlike
in [11], the bilinear model is now compared against a
GMM whose number of mixture components is opti-
mized for the amount of available training data. Both
objective metrics and listening test results are used. The
GMM is chosen as a reference because it has been well
studied and its performance level should be familiar in
the field of voice conversion.
src 1
src 2
src S
j – 1
= θ
j – 1
j – 1
1 pu
1 pu
Qi pu
... ...
Qi pu
Context selection
... ...
... ...
src 1
src 2
src S
Conversion for parallel data
with bilinear models
Converted event targets:
Aligned training data stored as
multilayered matrix D:
Aligned event targets of a test utterance
for the source speakers:
Figure 2. Context selection for the current phonetic unit and the conversion of its corresponding block of event vectors.
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion
4.1. The Experimental Set-up
The present study is concerned only with the spectral
conversion and does not discuss prosodic nor energy
conversion. We use 16-dimensional LSF vectors for the
representation of the spectral envelope as proposed in
[22]. LSFs relate closely to formant frequencies but un-
like formant frequencies they can be reliably estimated
[23,24]. They have also favorable interpolation proper-
ties and local spectral sensitivity which means that a
badly estimated component affects only a small portion
of the spectrum around that frequency [25,26]. Interest-
ingly, LSFs have also been used with MRTD due to these
beneficial characteristics.
We used in our experiments two source speakers (male
and female) and one target speaker (male) selected out of
four US English speakers available in the CMU Arctic
database. The Arctic database is a parallel corpus of 16 kHz
speech samples provided with phonetic labels and it is
publicly available at The
samples consist of short utterances with an average dura-
tion of 3 seconds.
The number of three speakers is not meant to be an
optimal lower limit, they were chosen with the purpose
of ensuring sufficiently large and phonetically balanced
text independent partitions of this parallel database. An-
other criterion was to have an equal number of male and
female source speakers. It is assumed ([7]) that an in-
creased number of speakers would be beneficial for the
proposed bilinear method leading to a better separation
of the style and content factors.
Phonetically balanced sets of utterances were selected
from each speaker to form parallel, non-parallel and si-
mulated cross-lingual training corpora with 3, 10, 70, 140
and 264 utterances.
In parallel and non-parallel training data all speakers
cover the full US English phoneme set but in the case of
simulated cross-lingual data only the two source speakers
use the full phoneme set. We simulate a cross-lingual
corpus by defining a set of 5 rare phonemes and select-
ing in the training data only target utterances in which
none of the rare phonemes occurs. The benefit from do-
ing so is that, unlike in the real cross-lingual case, we can
evaluate the conversion of phonemes unseen in the target
training data against real target instances of these rare
phonemes. The selected rare phonemes are those with
the lowest rate of occurrence in the database: “zh” as in
“mirage”/m-er-aa-zh, “oy” as in “joy”/jh-oy, “uh” as in
“could”/k-uh-d, “ch” as in “charge”/ch-aa-r-jh, “th” as in
“author”/ao-th-er. This selection attempts to make effi-
cient use of the full parallel data by maximizing the size
of its cross-lingual partition and does not guarantee a
minimal acoustic similarity between the rare phonemes
and other common phonemes used in training. The re-
semblance is possible to some extent (e.g. “th” “t”) but
seems to be rather limited. In our study the transcriptions
are assumed to be accurate and no special handling is
provided for pronunciation differences.
The alignment of the LSF vectors from parallel data is
accomplished using dynamic time warping (DTW) on
Mel-frequency cepstral coefficients (MFCC) extracted at
the same time locations as the LSFs. For non-parallel and
simulated cross-lingual data, event target vectors are
aligned following the procedure described in Section 3.2.
The bilinear method presented in Section 2 and the
contextual modeling methods described in Section 3.3
are compared against a modified GMM based method.
The modified GMM method uses data from two source
speakers to predict the target speaker’s voice in the same
way as the original GMM method uses data from one
source speaker to predict the target voice. Our tests indi-
cate that the modified approach outperforms the original
model in terms of mean squared error. The modified me-
thod requires aligned data from the three speakers to train
a conversion model whose input is a concatenation of
two aligned feature vectors from the two source speeches
and whose output is a feature vector of the target speech.
With the above specification the GMM training and
conversion are done as described in [1]. It is worth to
observe that in the simulated cross-lingual case only the
common phonemes are represented in the data used to
train the GMM. To keep comparisons between GMMs
meaningful, the initialization of the GMM training is
done always from the same list of data points in the same
order. This way two GMMs with the same number of
mixtures trained on different datasets would still be ini-
tialized identically.
To simplify the alignment in the test set, but also for a
more meaningful evaluation of the conversion result, we
design the test set as a phonetically balanced set of ten
parallel utterances covering the entire phoneme set (in-
cluding the rare phonemes). Including the rare phonemes
is important especially for the evaluation of the simulated
cross-lingual voice conversion.
Even though in real applications the test sentence does
not exist in the target voice, in our study such an utter-
ance exists and is used to align the test utterances of the
source speakers to the speaking rate of the target speaker.
This facilitates distance measurements in the feature do-
main between the converted LSF and real target LSF
vectors and allows the converted LSFs to be used along
with the rest of the original target parameters for the
synthesis of a converted waveform. Hence the converted
waveforms mimic the case when all other features except
LSFs are ideally converted allowing the evaluation to
more effectively focus on the performance of the spectral
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion133
LSF conversion.
The contextual model experiment is run only once for
the largest cross-lingual dataset (264 utterances) which is
believed to ensure sufficient data for the training contexts.
The conversion is done one phonetic unit at a time and
for every phonetic unit a context is built by requiring at
least 1000 aligned common frames (event targets). The
size of 1000 was selected based on preliminary experi-
ments and corresponds usually to 2-3 neighboring pho-
netic units in the speech sequence (i.e. offset = ±1 or ±2).
About 3 h 40 min of contextual training was needed for
the conversion of a 3 sec test utterance with a simulated
cross-lingual training set of 264 utterances. For the same
data the typical time required to train a GMM with 8
mixtures is 2 min while a bilinear model or a GMM with
1 mixture take about 2 sec to train. The times are re-
ported for an Intel Core2 CPU 6300 @ 1.86 GHz with
1 Gb of memory.
4.2. Metrics for Objective Evaluation
The first objective metric used is the mean squared error
(MSE) which is computed between a converted and a
target LSF vector using the formula
 
lsfilsf i
MSE lsflsfN
where lsfc and lsft denote the converted and target LSF
vectors and N represents the LSF order. The frame-wise
MSE figures are then averaged over the entire test data.
Spectral distortion (SD) is computed between a con-
verted spectral envelope (derived from the converted
LSF) and the corresponding target spectral envelope. The
SD is measured only for a selected frequency range of
the spectrum, using
10 2π
120log d
SD f
ff H
where H and ˆ
represent the target and converted
spectra, respectively, fs is the sampling frequency, and fl
and fu denote the frequency limits of the integration. For
better perceptual relevance, SD is computed between 0
and 4 kHz.
4.3. The Relationship between the Size of the
Training Data and the Number of Mixture
Components for GMMs
We studied with parallel training data how the GMM
performance is related to the number of mixtures and the
size of the training set.
For reduced datasets (3 utts.) the best GMM perform-
ance is attained using one mixture component. Objective
results in Figure 3 and indeed perceptual ones presented
in Section 4.5, indicate a close tie between this configu-
ration and the bilinear approach.
On the other hand, four mixtures achieve optimal or
close to optimal performance for larger sets (70 - 264
utts.). With 264 utts. for instance, a degradation to a
lesser or larger extent is produced for less than 4 or more
than 8 mixture components.
It is difficult to know beforehand what number of
mixture components is optimal for a given amount of
training data. Too few components, although reliably
estimated, would give an inaccurate approximation of the
training data while estimating too many components be-
comes unreliable and may cause over-fitting problems.
The result obtained with bilinear models was super-
imposed in Figure 3 for comparison revealing an inter-
esting similarity with the one mixture case of the GMM.
Both models outperform all other GMM configurations
for small training sets but remain slightly behind for
large data. It is worth to notice that the proposed bilinear
model does not require preliminary order tuning.
The result presented in this section was used to deter-
mine an “optimal” number of mixture components for
the GMMs involved in the next sections depending on
the amount of aligned LSF vectors in the training data.
4.4. Objective Results
The objective results obtained for a training set of 3 par-
allel utterances are shown in Table 2. The “optimal”
number of components for GMM in this case is 1.
It is worth observing that these figures are extremely
Figure 4 presents MSE for both GMM and bilinear
Figure 3. MSE for GMMs with different mixture numbers
and training sizes demonstrated wi th parallel training data;
a similar figure for the bilinear approach is superimposed.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion
Table 2. Mean squared error (MSE) and spectral distortion
(SD) results for 3 parallel training utterances
Bilinear model GMM (1 mix)
MSE 36625 36329
SD (dB) 5.51 5.50
Figure 4. Mean squared error results over the set of test
methods for parallel, non-parallel and simulated cross-
lingual cases and for various sizes of the training data.
The contextual modeling was evaluated only for 264
simulated cross-lingual utterances.
For GMMs, the “optimal” mixture numbers corre-
sponding to 3, 10, 70, 140, 264 utterances were found to
be 1, 1, 4, 8, 8 for parallel data and 1, 1, 4, 4, 8 for
non-parallel and cross-lingual data.
The two techniques compare to each other similarly in
all three scenarios. Their objective performance is very
similar for small training sets while the “optimal” GMM
gains some advantage for larger training sets. It is im-
portant to observe that this performance gain for the
GMM is obtained at the cost of increased computational
complexity corresponding to a larger number of mixture
components. As reflected in Section 4.5 in the listening
tests this difference in objective measurements seems to
be very small from a perceptual point of view.
We can also see that the contextual modeling brings a
sensible improvement compared to the “optimal” GMM
and bilinear models fitted globally on full cross-lingual
training data (264 utterances).
Figure 5 shows the corresponding spectral distortion
results. An interesting aspect to note is that the minimum
spectral distortion with 264 utterances is attained for the
GMM method with parallel data (4.79 dB) while the
Figure 5. Spectral distortion (dB) results over the set of test
maximum is 5.50 dB recorded for the bilinear approach
with non-parallel data. The gap of only 0.71 dB is per-
ceptually small and this was also reflected in the listening
Figures 6 and 7 present consistent MSE and SD re-
sults for the conversion of the rare/unseen phonemes. It
is interesting to observe in the simulated cross-lingual
experiment the capability to restore phonemes unseen in
the training data (rare phonemes). In the bottom plots of
Figures 6 and 7, we observe that the bilinear approach
and the GMM based method perform similarly inde-
pendent of the size of training data. By comparison with
the cross-lingual results over complete utterances pre-
sented in Figures 4 and 5, it is worth noticing that the
error over the unseen phonemes is significantly larger.
The top and middle plots indicate for GMM and the
bilinear method respectively that the accuracy of recon-
struction is not depending much on whether the phoneme
exists or not in the training data of the target speaker
(minor differences between the results with non-parallel
data including ra re phonemes and those with simulated
cross-lingual data lacking them) but rather on the align-
ment and type of data (parallel or text independent). Bet-
ter reconstruction results are obtained with parallel data
which is also an indicator of the best performance that
could be achieved due to its precise alignment and be-
cause the rare phonemes are included in the training. By
comparison with the results in Figures 4 and 5 we notice
that the gap between figures for rare phonemes and
complete utterances is significantly smaller for the paral-
lel case than it is for the nonparallel and cross-lingual
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion135
Figure 6. Mean squared error results over the rare/unseen
phonemes existent in the test utterances.
Figure 7. Spectral distortion (dB) results over the rare/un-
seen phonemes existent in the test uttera nce s.
Interestingly, the result of the contextual modeling for
the reconstruction of unseen phonemes is very similar to
those obtained for the globally optimized GMM or bilin-
ear models. This result is surprising considering that the
missing phonemes are reconstructed based only on very
small contexts of phonetic units. The bilinear model
seems to be capable to generalize from a reduced subset
of training data almost as well as it does when using the
full data for training.
Figures 8 and 9 illustrate a direct comparison between
the two methods for every conversion scenario separately
by showing again MSE and SD results measured over the
entire test set.
Independent of the scenario, the performance of the
bilinear models is very similar to that of the “optimal”
GMM particularly for small training sets. While the ob-
jective results show a small performance advantage of
the GMM for larger training sets, the subjective listening
results presented in Section 4.5 indicate that the methods
are still very close perceptually even for large datasets.
The relatively small performance difference can be
explained by observing the similarity in the MSE criteria
that both methods optimize. The bilinear models opti-
mize the criterion in (6) whereas the GMM optimizes a
similar mean squared error criterion between the con-
verted and target feature vectors. An interesting finding
visible in the top panel reveals that contextual modeling
slightly outperforms the two techniques based on glob-
ally optimized models. This confirms that contextual
approach may indeed capture details better than globally
optimized models even though the gain does not justify
the additional computational effort.
Finally, for each method (GMM and bilinear) we
compared between three conversion scenarios: parallel,
non-parallel and simulated cross-lingual (in Figures 10
and 11 in terms of MSE and SD, respectively).
First, we notice that each method taken separately ob-
tained very similar results for the non-parallel and simu-
lated cross-lingual scenarios. This finding, in line with a
similar result in the recovery of rare/unseen phonemes,
indicates that the presence (in non-parallel data) or ab-
sence (from cross-lingual data) of the rare phonemes did
not have a major influence on the results.
Secondly, both GMM and bilinear approaches perform
clearly better with parallel training data than in the
non-parallel or simulated cross-lingual cases and the dif-
ference is bigger for the small training sets (3 utts.).
The SD results shown in Figure 11 are again in line
with the MSE scores presented above.
A concluding remark on the objective measurement
experiments is that the performance of both systems is
influenced by the amount of training data only up to a
point beyond which adding more data does not bring
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion
Figure 8. Comparative mean squared error results for the
GMM, bilinear approach and contextual modeling in dif-
ferent conve r sion scenarios.
Figure 9. Comparative spectral distortion (dB) results for
the GMM, bilinear approach and contextual modeling in
different co nversion sc e narios.
Figure 10. Comparative mean squared error results be-
tween different conversion scenarios for the GMM and bi-
linear approach.
Figure 11. Comparative spectral distortion (dB) results be-
tween different conversion scenarios for the GMM and bi-
linear approach.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion137
significant improvements of the performance. We also
note that it is the size of the actual aligned data that in-
fluences the performance and not the number of training
sentences. A training data consisting of text independent
utterances will result in significantly less aligned data
than the same number of parallel utterances using our
alignment technique. This also explains the bigger dif-
ferences between parallel and text independent scenarios
in the range 3 to 10 training utterances.
4.5. Listening Tests
For a meaningful validation of the objective measure-
ments we present subjective results with both reduced (3
utterances) and large training sets (264 utterances).
The first test compares the bilinear and GMM methods
for a training set of 3 parallel utterances. One mixture
component is used for the GMM as found “optimal” for
the data size.
The next tests are concerned with large training sets of
264 utterances (approx. 3 sec per utterance) and use
GMMs with 8 mixture components. They evaluate the
GMM and bilinear methods relative to one another using
parallel or simulated cross-lingual training data but also
evaluate how these two scenarios (parallel and simulated
cross-lingual) compare to each other for each of the two
methods. In the last test the contextual modeling is com-
pared with the GMM based method for the cross-lingual
training data. The results with 95% confidence intervals
are given in Table 3.
In each test, ten listeners compare schemes A and B
using ten test utterances and a modified MOS test. In the
identity test a real target version of the test sentence is
compared in terms of voice identity with the converted
samples obtained with schemes A and B. The quality test
is simply a comparison in terms of speech quality be-
tween the two converted samples A and B. The success-
fulness of identity conversion and the overall speech
quality are evaluated separately with scores between -2
(scheme A is much better than B) and 2 (scheme B is
much better than A). The 0 (zero) score is given for per-
ceptually identical performance.
The first result in Table 3 represents a comparison
between the GMM based method with one mixture
component and the bilinear approach for a training set of
3 parallel utterances. The very balanced score and its
95% confidence intervals indicate very similar perform-
ances for the two methods. This is in line with the objec-
tive results pointing out that the methods tend to have
identical performance for small training sets. The SD
figure shows a 0.01 dB difference (5.50 dB for GMM
and 5.51 dB for the bilinear approach) which is not per-
ceivable by humans.
Results for large training sets of 264 utterances are
Table 3. Subjective listening test results.
Utts.A B Quality Identity
3GMM/parallelBL/parallel 0.02 0.08 0.01 0.07
264GMM/parallelBL/parallel –0.08 0.12 –0.02 0.09
264 GMM/simulated
cross-lingual –0.12 0.12 –0.05 0.09
264GMM/parallel GMM/simulated
cross-lingual –0.17 0.12 –0.11 0.10
264BL/parallel BL/simulated
cross-lingual –0.17 0.13 –0.01 0.10
264 GMM/simulated
cross-lingual –0.05 0.12 –0.03 0.10
presented on lines 2 to 6 as follows. The second line
compares the bilinear model and the 8-mixture GMM
method found “optimal” for the given parallel data on
which both methods are trained. The 95% confidence
interval could not indicate a clear winner showing that
the methods are perceptually equivalent. The SD differ-
ence of 0.17 dB (4.79 dB for GMM and 4.97 dB for bi-
linear) is hardly observable by the human hearing.
On the third line, the result obtained for the simulated
cross-lingual scenario is slightly in favor of the GMM
but the perceptual difference seems to be, however, very
small. The exact 95% confidence interval actually ex-
tends by 0.0006 to the other side of the 0 axis, so in a
strict sense it is impossible to call a winner.
The fourth and fifth results of Table 3 indicate that
both the GMM based method and the bilinear approach
perform clearly better with parallel data than with simu-
lated cross-lingual data but interestingly the difference is
very small. With –1 indicating that the parallel case is
(clearly) better, and –2 for much better, our scores of
–0.17 could be interpreted as “only slightly better”. This
suggests that the type of the data may not be the essential
factor for conversion as long as we have an efficient
alignment scheme and that the proposed alignment
scheme has been successful.
Finally, the last result of Table 3 represents a com-
parison between the “optimal” (8-mixture) GMM based
method and the contextual modeling technique in the
simulated cross-lingual case. Not surprisingly the 0.1 dB
margin by which the context method outperforms the
GMM approach is perceptually insignificant and the lis-
tening test result is consistent with this objective finding,
indicating that it is practically impossible to decide a
The listening test results are largely consistent with the
objective measurements additionally revealing that the
objective differences between the bilinear model and
GMM, especially for large datasets, are very small or
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. JSIP
A Study of Bilinear Models in Voice Conversion
insignificant from a perceptual point of view. The small
perceptual difference between parallel and cross-lingual
scenarios is an indication of efficiency for our text-in-
dependent alignment. On the other hand the listening
tests demonstrate that contextual modeling did not bring
a perceptually meaningful gain.
5. Conclusions
This paper presented a comprehensive study of bilinear
models applied in voice transformation and explored
their capability to reconstruct phonetic content in a new
voice. The paper also proposed a new conversion tech-
nique called contextual modeling that benefits from the
efficient computation algorithms and the robust per-
formance of the bilinear models with reduced data.
Objective and subjective evaluations of the bilinear
model were reported in relationship to the traditional
GMM-based technique with “optimal” number of mix-
ture components determined based on the size of the
training data. The objective figures of the two methods
are particularly close in the range of small data while for
larger sets the GMM seems to gain advantage. However,
the listening tests indicated that the two methods perform
equivalently or comparable from a perceptual point of
view for both small and large training sets.
The gain in objective performance of the GMM for
large data is achieved at the cost of an important increase
of the computational complexity due to a larger number
of mixture components. It is worth noticing that the bi-
linear model does not need any tuning.
Section 4.3 and [11] suggest that the bilinear model
may have an important advantage in the range of small
datasets over GMMs with more than one mixture com-
ponent, both objectively and subjectively. This is dem-
onstrated in [11] for a GMM with 4 mixtures. Section 4.3
also reflects with objective figures an interesting similar-
ity between the bilinear model and a GMM with only one
The reconstruction capability of unseen data appears to
be similar for the two methods independently of the data
Both in a global evaluation over the entire test set and
exclusively over the rare phonetic units the non-parallel
result is very similar to the simulated cross-lingual result,
leading to an interesting finding that the performance is
not influenced or influenced only marginally by incom-
plete data if sufficient training data is provided and suffi-
cient common phonetic units are represented in the train-
ing data.
The performance seems to be much more affected by
the type of data (parallel or text independent). Both me-
thods perform better with parallel data than they do with
text independent data but as the amount of data is in-
creased the differences reduce for each of the two meth-
ods. The perceptual closeness between parallel and
cross-lingual scenarios with large data is also reflected in
listening tests which gave scores of only –0.17 (on a
scale –2 to 2) in favor of the parallel case. Such a small
difference between parallel and text independent results
indicates a certain degree of efficiency of the proposed
alignment scheme.
The contextual modeling is conceptually interesting
and obtained slightly better results than the other meth-
ods. Our experiments answer the questions posed in Sec-
tion 3.3 showing that a contextual modeling can be better
than models optimized globally on the full training data.
We could not find clear evidence that the contextual
modeling solved the over-smoothing problem. In fact, it
could be argued that over-smoothing is partially caused
by the MSE based criteria optimized by all these methods,
in the sense that such criteria do not focus on details but
on averages. In contextual modeling, however, this av-
eraging is applied to a restricted “local” dataset.
Future research could try finding and optimizing a
perceptually motivated criterion or study new ways to
separate style and content in speech, e.g. by modeling it
as product of more than two underlying factors.
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